Strip You Bare

By: Maisey Yates

“Well, I look forward to that.”

“I wouldn’t,” she said, arching a brow. “Now, are you going to let me back in?”

“Why should I?”

“I have contractors coming by soon, and then a cleaning crew arriving to give a bid. Unless you want to manage that, I suggest you get out of my way.”

She took a step toward him and he blocked the door with his body, bracing his arm against the doorframe, preventing her entry. “Move.”

“No. I have a question. Why haven’t you called anyone in your family about this? I’m going out on a limb here and assuming that you personally don’t own any of the Delacroix properties. I’m willing to bet you didn’t even purchase the panties you’re wearing. Someone is financing your life, and it isn’t you.”

He set her teeth on edge. And he wasn’t wrong. Which was possibly why he was so irritating. But her grandfather was fragile, her relationship with him almost more so. She didn’t want to admit that her going back to the mansion had stirred up a hornets’ nest. “Family is complicated.”

“No shit. Though mine is pretty uncomplicated since they’re ash piles in the cemetery.”

She wasn’t sure what to say to that. Apologize? Express sympathy? The same was true of almost all her family.

“Sometimes dead family members cause the most trouble,” she said. She was thinking of her father. That weight that had settled in her stomach ever since she’d found out about the ownership transfer of the mansion doubled. She didn’t know why she suspected her dad had something to do with it. Maybe because he was dead and he made the easiest scapegoat. Maybe because she’d never quite understood why he’d been in the French Quarter that night.

Maybe because ten years without a person made you start forgetting who they really were. Made you start filling in gaps with new narratives that didn’t exactly match up to reality. But reality was warped enough that you could shove in whatever you wanted.

Maybe that’s all it was.

“I don’t know about that. They’re quiet. Don’t have to invite them over for the holidays. You never have to throw Christmas parties for them.”

“Well, I am throwing a Christmas party.”

“Do I get an invite? If I’m going to play babysitter for you I feel like I should be able to crash the party.”

A thought suddenly occurred to her. “You have to stay with me, don’t you? I’m your assignment. You can’t leave. And you can’t kick me out.”

“Where is this leading, princess?”

“Ms. Delacroix. You can call me Ms. Delacroix.”

“I don’t think I will, baby.”

This was her chance to wrench some of her power back. To use the perceived structure of the motorcycle club to her advantage.

No matter how powerful someone seemed, they were being controlled by something. Everyone was beholden somehow.

Badass bikers not excluded.

“Hmmm. This is interesting, Micah. Very interesting. You have to play the part of my shadow whether you want to or not because for all your posturing . . . you aren’t in charge.”

She saw his frame stiffen, his dark eyes going hard, flat. “I don’t always do what I’m told.”

“But you are in this case. That’s what you’re doing right now,” she said, studying him hard.

The sun wasn’t high in the sky yet, the air carrying the heat down, wrapping itself around her like a blanket. But right now, she wasn’t the only one sweating. “I have a life away from here,” he said, his words tight. “If I want to get back to it, I have to play by the rules for a while.”

A smile curled her lips. “And you don’t like that. You don’t like to play by rules. Because you’re such a badass.” Her grin broadened.

He released his hold on the doorframe and reached out, grabbing hold of her chin, holding her steady. Her heart was thundering hard, and for the first time she felt genuinely afraid of him. For the first time, she appreciated how large, how strong he was.

She wasn’t accustomed to feeling out of her element. She was Sarah Delacroix, and wherever she went, she commanded the room. She kept to the beaten paths, her safe spaces. Dimly, she was aware that New Orleans was a city with a very dark underside. That she had been spared any darkness, her life a whirlwind of cotillions and garden parties. White gloves that never needed to get soiled.

But now, right now, she had a feeling she was looking the city’s dark side in the eye.

“I might be on a leash at the moment but don’t think I couldn’t bite you if I wanted to, baby girl.” He released his hold on her. “Come back inside.”

Of course, now he was demanding it, so that she wasn’t the one getting her way. She wasn’t going to stand out on the street just to serve her desire to feel like she had some control in the situation. She had just found her control anyway.

She walked back into the mansion, feeling somehow different about it now. Feeling like she really was a guest, rather than the lady of the manor. She hated that he’d made her feel that way. That he’d turned her over his shoulder and turned her whole world upside down along with it.

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